Coronavirus patient in ICU in Mission Viejo
Doctors intubate a coronavirus patient in the COVID-19 ICU at Providence Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo on Friday. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

The number of San Diego County residents hospitalized with the coronavirus declined slightly Saturday, from 334 to 332, while the number of those patients in intensive care remained unchanged at 94, according to the latest state figures.

Saturday’s numbers come two days after local health officials reported 2,336 new cases of COVID-19 and eight additional deaths associated with the virus, as the county awaits its first doses of two medications intended to treat the virus.

Thursday’s data increased the county’s cumulative totals since the pandemic began to 405,705 infections and 4,442 deaths.

The county Health and Human Services Agency does not report COVID data on weekends or holidays, so no updates were provided Friday or Saturday.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has issued emergency use authorizations for two new oral antiviral medications to treat COVID. However, supplies of these medications “will initially be very limited and San Diegans should continue to mask up this holiday season to prevent infection,” a statement from the county health agency said.

The county expects its first shipment of Pfizer’s Paxlovid in the next few days. A second oral antiviral, Merck’s molnupiravir, is expected to start arriving in the region soon afterward, according to the HHSA.

A prescription will be required for either drug. Both drugs are to be taken over several days in pill form. Both will be available to patients with mild-to-moderate COVID-19 symptoms who are at risk of progressing to severe coronavirus disease, including hospitalization or death.

“The FDA’s emergency use authorization of these new oral antivirals comes at a critical point in the pandemic as we see an increase in cases and a rapid spread of the Omicron variant,” said Dr. Wilma Wooten, county public health officer. “However, news of the arrival of these drugs does not mean we can let our guard down.

“We need to continue to mask up, especially in crowded indoor spaces, and I urge anyone who has not gotten vaccinated, or is overdue for their booster shot, to get vaccinated as soon as possible,” she said.

Once the new drugs arrive in the region, they will initially be distributed through about two dozen pharmacies, pre-selected by the California Department of Public Health. The amount each pharmacy is receiving is “based on community impact from the pandemic.”

The state and county will expand distribution to more pharmacy locations as supplies increase.

A total of 31,504 new COVID tests were reported to the county on Thursday. A total of 7.4% of all tests returned positive for the virus over the past week.

As of Wednesday, more than 6.03 million doses of the three vaccines now available had been administered throughout the San Diego County region.

More than 2.75 million county residents — around 87.4% of all those eligible — have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. More than 2.44 million San Diegans are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, representing roughly 77.7% of eligible residents.

In addition, 683,780 booster shots have been administered in the region.

–City News Service